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I submitted a manuscript to IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, which is a journal for computer science applications and automotive/mechanical engineering. A reviewer of my manuscript made the following comment:

"please rephrase direct quotations into indirect quotations as a better citation style"

Although this reviewer made excellent comments, I have my doubts about this comment. I prefer a direct quotation because of the following reasons:

  • The previous authors (from which I am quoting) already chose their words wisely (I assume), so why trying to find another (possibly worse) way of phrasing?
  • Using a direct quotation, it is clearer what my claim (that comes after the quotation) is based on. With an indirect quotation, one needs to read the reference to judge whether I interpreted the cited reference correctly.

I wonder:

  • Are there good reasons to prefer indirect quotations (as suggested by the reviewer)?
  • If direct quotations are preferred, what would be the polite way to convince the reviewer of this?
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  • I think this depends really heavily on the field, so it would probably be good to specify your field in the question. Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 6:33
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    Thanks for the remark! Just added this information at the start of the post.
    – EdG
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 6:56
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    Terence Tao has given a fairly elaborate explanation on why you should avoid using direct quotation in this blog post. You might want to check this out.
    – Ken Hung
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 7:42
  • Thanks, I will have a look at the blog post!
    – EdG
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 11:44
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    Am I correct in assuming that "indirect quotation" is the same as "paraphrasing"?
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 14:50

1 Answer 1

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The preference for direct vs indirect quotations varies strongly with the field. In mathematics and computer science, we just usually don't use direct quotations1, whereas they seem to be the standard in many humanities. Outside of rare occassions where an author you cite has used such a remarkable phrasing that you really, really, really need to use a direct quotation, the case for going against the prevailing customs of your field just doesn't seem to be there.

While I personally view this mostly as a matter of convention, Ken Hung has pointed out in the comments that Terrence Tao argues against using direct quotations on his blog.

1 Something to mention here is that definition and theorem statements are a special case for referencing in mathematics. We don't paraphrase them (much), but also don't use the usual formatting of direct quotations.

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